April 25, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.
Psalm 145:3 (NIV)
Praise isn’t my natural response to God during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The steady flow of bad news orders my prayers toward petition and lament. Of course, I can find refuge in God’s mighty acts in history – Israel’s Exodus, their return from Babylonian captivity, and most significantly, Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Certainly, Psalm 145 celebrates God’s work in history, but the psalmist seems to focus equal attention on God’s work in the present. In our current situation, how do we authentically pray, “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise”?
Our problems begin with our understanding of greatness. We often associate greatness with position and power. We are drawn to these as moths to the flame. I certainly am. In a memorable and sadly comical moment, the disciples argue among themselves as to who among them would be greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus uses that moment to teach his followers about God’s vision for greatness. “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
Jesus’ teaching about greatness has led some of his followers throughout the last two millennia to renounce their position and power entirely. (For a recent example, see A Politician Takes a Sledgehammer to His Own Ego.) In some ways that’s an admirable response – one that prophetically engages many in the church to reflect on Jesus’ teachings more seriously. Nevertheless, the question for most of us in leadership is not whether we should abdicate our leadership power and position, but how we live those responsibilities out, faithful to God’s vision for them. How can the greatest be like the youngest? How can those who rule, at the same time, be like those who serve?
How we can praise God in a time of lament, and how we can be both great and lowly at the same time, may seem like two different questions, but I believe they are deeply interconnected. Both hinge on our conceptions of greatness – God’s and ours – that require reimagining. Three helpful and related insights flow from the latter half of today’s text, “his greatness no one can fathom.”
First, the LORD’s greatness is mysterious. As Job said in his great suffering (with echoes of this psalm and our present situation), “(God) performs wonders that cannot be fathomed” (Job 9:10a). God is at work for good even when our circumstances would suggest the very opposite. In our present pandemic, it’s hard for me to imagine why a great and good God would not intervene more directly. But then this psalm challenges my imagination. In a world where I’m used to having explanations for everything, God’s sovereign greatness can be disturbing and disorienting. Yet Psalm 145 reminds us that God’s greatness and God’s goodness are inextricably intertwined, even when we cannot see or imagine how that could be. And, that can encourage us and evoke praise, even as we lament our present circumstances.
Second, in response to that mystery, our posture in leadership should be humility, not hubris. If God’s greatness is beyond our imaginings, that should help us keep our own greatness in perspective. One of the dangers of great leadership responsibility is that we live in our own echo chamber. Many around us, sometimes out of deference and respect, tell us how great we are, and are reluctant to point out our limitations or weaknesses. Learning to cultivate a healthy awe for God’s greatness is a helpful antidote to a preoccupation with our own.
Finally, and perhaps paradoxically, God’s mysterious greatness and our corresponding humility are intended to evoke not a passive resignation but an active curiosity. As another psalmist writes, “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). That’s because while “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2). Leadership in crisis not only responds to God with awe and humility, but with curiosity on how we are to fulfill God’s intended good for all human beings. Examples of such responses abound in our current crisis—including the tireless search for a vaccine and therapeutic interventions, the improvising of new ways to care for the very ill, the use of technology to remain connected with friends and neighbors, and the education of children home from school.
Something to Think About:
How are you seeing God at work during this pandemic? What things evoke praise in you? What causes you to lament?
Something to Do:
As you think about God’s greatness in our current situation, what makes you curious? What might you do with that curiosity?
Lord Jesus Christ,
You who are the creator of all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16), are also “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Wow! That astonishing revelation of God’s greatness is beyond my wildest imaginings.
Help me to live humbly in response. And help me to be curious about ways I can follow you by embodying your great goodness in the world that I am called to serve.
I ask in your name, Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Calling on God in Truth
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You can access all of our Life for Leaders devotions HERE. You can also learn more about the De Pree Center and its resources HERE.
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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